“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” – Oscar Wilde
There is a famous Seinfeld scene from the episode called “The Maid” where Kramer and Jerry are talking about Ray’s Pizza in New York. Basically, Kramer is lost downtown and trying to tell Jerry where he is, and he looks around and says that he’s in front of the “Original Ray’s Pizza”. Which is funny because if you have ever been to New York you know that there are around 50 different Ray’s Pizzas scattered throughout the city selling pizza by the slice. Yet they all claim to be the “Original” Ray’s Pizza.
Here’s the clip:
Going back to the Wilde quote above, the guy who created the original “Original Ray’s Pizza” in 1959, Ralph Cuomo, should’ve been flattered as copycats abounded in the ’80s and ’90s. However, like most entrepreneurs, he was annoyed because he wanted credit for coming up with the take-out counter pizza concept. So he trademarked the brand and franchised the pizza. For more on that story, see this article from Business Insider magazine.
Places that serve Ray’s style pizza aren’t just limited to New York. When I lived in Seoul, there was a restaurant called Brick Oven New York Pizzeria that was pretty decent. Their motto was “eat the original, not the copies” since after they opened and experienced success a few other pizza places opened with similar names (ie. Gino’s NY Pizzeria). There is even a pizza place here in Delhi called New York Slice. It’s a copycat NY pizza parlor with red and white tablecloths and triangle slices you can fold in half. The pizza is meh and just doesn’t cut it. I mention all of this to say that the idea of selling slices of greasy pizza was so popular that it even made its way to international waters.
Are there any original ideas anymore?
The other thing that’s kind of interesting about the Ray’s Pizza story is that the Seinfeld joke was later rehashed in the 2003 film Elf. There’s a part in the movie where Santa is giving advice to Buddy the Elf before he leaves the North Pole for NYC. Santa tells Buddy that he knows where the Original and best tasting Ray’s Pizza is located and that Buddy should always go there and avoid the imitations.
Here’s that clip:
I was thinking about all this Ray’s Pizza stuff as I was going through the materials for this week’s COETAIL lesson “Respect the Remix“. I was also feeling sorry for myself because the nearest Ray’s Pizza is 7,291 miles away and I won’t be in the states for another few months and I love cheap pizza on the go. WAAAAAAH!!
What I was philosophizing about is the idea that people build off of each other’s ideas all the time. A good idea is a good idea. Most strokes of genius don’t spontaneously arise in vacuums. Thus the Elf joke that harkens back to the Seinfeld joke and the proliferation of Ray’s Pizza outlets and similar style pizza joints across the globe. According to Kirby Ferguson, in his video “Everything is a Remix“, this is inevitable:
“Copying, transforming, and combining are the basic elements of creativity that are used by any creative artist.” (Kirby Ferguson, as summarized in an article found on PetaPixel talking about how creativity comes from without and not from within).
While it is important to respect the intellectual property rights of others and give credit where credit is due (out of a moral obligation and the desire to not get sued for copyright infringement), there is also something to be said for running with a good concept, transforming it, popularizing it, and bringing it to the masses. It’s important for artists to allow their work to be riffed on or used by others, because you never know what might happen once an idea is let loose and given to others to play with. There is a fine line to be walked between copying and giving credit, and the skilled creator is able to navigate those waters successfully.
What does all this talk about remixing and copying mean for me as an educator?
In terms of talking to my students about these concepts, I like the idea of having them come up with their own examples of remixes and copycats, and then thinking through each situation in terms of the pros, cons, and ramifications. I’m visualizing classroom discussions and debates around recent news stories that will really bring these ideas alive and put them into meaningful contexts.
Usually, when we talk about intellectual property in class, we discuss the importance of not copying/pasting chunks of texts into writing, and the need to paraphrase or directly quote information instead. We also spend time talking about the importance of citing sources and images correctly using Noodle Tools when doing research projects.
But we don’t actually talk about real-world examples or the why behind the rules. I’m realizing now that there are myriad rich discussions to be had about issues related to intellectual property that can be looked at through many different lenses and viewpoints.
My mind is always jumping ahead, and so I’m already thinking about different ways we can discuss these concepts. I mean, I’m writing this blog post right now listening to Taylor Swift’s Fearless album, which is a brilliant re-recording of her own album that she released in 2008 (see this article in The Ringer for more on that). Other ideas I have include talking about fan fiction, nonfungible tokens, movie and book sequels, the Marvel Comic universe, cronuts, etc. (the list is endless and it would be awesome to have the students generate their own).
I could also use my own COETAIL blog when talking to students about the importance of avoiding plagiarism when building upon the ideas of others. I might show the students how I have tried to cite sources in my posts appropriately, use hyperlinks, and give credit correctly when using stock photo images from Pixabay and Pexels. Using my own work as a model could be a powerful mentor text for the students, and help them to understand the concepts in a more concrete way.
To sum up, this topic of inquiry was an interesting thought train for me. My apologies for rambling all over the place. The exploration I went on into the world of the remix via the Ray’s pizza case study kind of reminded me of Pandora’s box. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop because the latch had been opened.
For more on the subject of remixing, check out this article from TEDBlog called “14 Brilliant Quotes on Remixing”. I loved this quote especially:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination … Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it.” – Jim Jarmusch
What do you think? Is nothing original? Should we all hail the copycat? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below.